Articles tagged advertising

For three days in May, tens of thousands of people crowdsourced the control of a giant, animatronic squid. Eight independently-controlled arms struggled to work in concert as it attempted to run a pizza parlor and man a production line. And it was all part of a brilliant creative campaign by Old Spice. How in the world did marketing get to this point?

This story starts with a platform called Twitch, though similar stories can be found for Snapchat, Reddit, Facebook Live, and a handful of other youth-dominated media. Twitch is often labeled as “people watching people play video games.” While this is functionally true, it demonstrates a shallow understanding of the 100M user platform that Amazon purchased for a billion dollars in 2014.

Twitch is about communities, united by a shared interest in a particular video game or “broadcaster.” Its value comes as much from interacting with the broadcaster and other like-minded members as it does from the gameplay itself. And those members communicate through chatrooms in a language that is thoroughly and deliberately obtuse to outsiders.

In 2014, a Twitch broadcaster built a system into his chatroom that parsed through comments and translated them into crowdsourced player movements in the video game Pokémon Red. After 16 days and the collective contribution of 1.16 million community members, they beat the game. The idea became a phenomenon, and it spawned several dedicated channels used for social experiments, including the currently-active StockStream, in which a user is letting Twitch crowdsource the allocation of a real $50,000 stock portfolio (it’s up about $2,300 or 4.6% after a week and a half, compared to 1.0% for the S&P 500).

While there are native advertising opportunities within Twitch, using them without proper context can expose brands to the wrath of a skeptical and extremely vocal community. Last summer, Bomb Pop ran a pre-roll ad across the Twitch network, presumably inspired by the thought “the kids are on Twitch nowadays, and kids like Bomb Pops.” The self-unaware, 30-second spot of children on a playground stood out like sore thumb against a backdrop of action-packed video game trailers and energy drinks, and the community predictably sighed.

The advertising world is very good at buying ads based on demographic and behavioral profiles. In a few years, 84% of display advertising will be bought programmatically because it yields proven results. Yet my concern is that we are optimizing toward an artificially constrained inventory at the expense of exploring new platforms and marketing opportunities that are not so easily manipulated and which represent the communities of choice for a new generation.

I understand how we fell into this trap. We as marketers preach to our clients about disruption and the need for digital transformation, not realizing that we ourselves are at risk of being disrupted by focusing on short-term performance over longer-term innovation. Allocating budgets to DSPs that can buy programmatic inventory is safe and effective; doing something groundbreaking is risky and uncertain.

When Old Spice first started to explore Twitch, it was a welcome relief from teed-up gaming campaigns and facepalm-worthy demographic ads. It was clear that they had taken the time not only to look at the data about Twitch, but to understand how its community operates. They understood that Twitch is at its finest when its users can rally behind a cause because they had seen Twitch Plays in action.

So in 2015, Old Spice dropped a real person in the middle of a forest and had the community determine his – admittedly, heavily scripted – actions for three days. You can read the articles about it on Ad Week or Digiday, but those are predictably myopic, declaring it as a win for targeting an elusive demographic. If you really want to know how and why it worked, I recommend this post from the notoriously brand-unfriendly Reddit.

Then they followed it up two years later with a giant, octopodal robot. It was ridiculous theatre. It really didn’t work, in the strictest sense. Food flew everywhere, tentacles had literal minds of their own. But it was also glorious, and it deserves respect from the marketing community. Not the kind of respect that comes from admiring their ability to get in front of Millennials, but the kind that comes from their continued resolve to opt for audience-relevant creativity at a time when automation is so readily available.

Keep buying your programmatic display ads. They work really, really well. But take a cue from P&G and Old Spice and spend some time immersing yourselves in the platforms of the future, where modern ad strategies fall flat, and where true, creative-driven marketing can shine once again.

Photo credit: Dan Silva

Internet video is pretty much on its way to becoming, well, the Internet. Cisco says Internet video will account for 84% of all U.S. Internet traffic in four years, up from its current 78%. According to YouTube, more than 400 hours of video content were uploaded to its platform every minute last year. And, of course, marketers have a lot to say about the topic. Here’s a mess of stats around it.

But I bring it up here not so much to talk about Internet video, but to talk about video on Facebook, which if Zuckerberg and Co. have their way, is also headed to being, “well, the Internet.”

Facebook seems to be changing how we consume video, in both small and large ways. For instance, here’s a surprising stat: 85% of video watched on Facebook is without sound. That’s right, Facebook is sending us back to the silent film days.

From a certain perspective this makes sense. We’re on the Internet approximately 100% of the time, but not always alone with it. Video sound popping up at work or on the bus or while watching TV is annoying to us and rude to others. So I can see us silently checking out the video, reading the closed captions, and moving on in our perpetual Internet grazing. But I also wonder how much of that 85% is just autoplaying video on devices with the sound turned down already (because who knows when random video ads will start playing on any tab we have open). Facebook users could be playing the video without even knowing it as they scroll through their feeds.

But it’s not just that Facebook is causing us to watch video without sound. Facebook wants us to skip ahead to the good parts…on live video. They’re doing that with their Facebook Live offering by measuring the comments and emoji reactions to the stream. When a part of a live stream gets a lot of reaction, Facebook marks it as a “good part,” and lets latecomers to the stream jump right there without having to sit through the boring bits.

And then of course, there’s Facebook’s heavy investment in virtual reality, what with the Oculus Rift and all, which will change video in ways that we can’t yet foresee.

But what these changes point to is that Facebook is making video more consumable. The worst thing about video on the Internet is that you have to consume it at the pace of the video, while the rest of the Internet is consumable at your own pace.

Now if we can only figure out a way around starting a video with a video ad.

Photo credit: Travis Ekmark

Streams of Data Endlessly Intersecting

On Friday, TIME columnist Joel Stein tweeted, “Quitting Facebook is just the new ‘I don’t own a TV.’” I’m not sure what that makes, “I’m not on Twitter,” but the comment stood out to me since two days before I’d read Farhad Manjoo’s Slate piece on how parallel TV and Facebook are…in the realm of advertising.

When we talk about Internet ads, the conversation generally devolves into phrases like click-through rates and costs per click and other phrases that shrink the collective soul of the human race by so many nanometers every time they’re mentioned.

Internet ads have historically (and I mean back to the time of King Richard III) been held to a different and unique standard not applied for billboards and television and newspaper ads and anything else you can’t click on (yet). And, of course, it’s a flawed standard, since it’s already turned cliché that the only time you click on an Internet ad is by accident.

And the same criticisms are often launched with demonic glee at Facebook ads. Except that Facebook ads work. Just not in the traditional Internet way…in the traditional advertising way. According to Manjoo:

In the 1970s and ’80s, advertisers and analytics firms like Nielsen came up with a variety of ways to analyze ads on the tube. Among other things, they instituted standardized measurements to compare TV to other media—like “gross ratings points”—and, after surveying consumers’ purchases, they figured out how people’s TV viewing affected their buying habits. Today, thanks to a practice known as “mix modeling,” the return on TV advertising is exquisitely measurable. Large advertisers like Procter & Gamble know exactly how much they’re getting out of it…

Now Facebook is trying to bring to the Web same rigorous metrics that have ruled brand advertising on television. “We’re trying to create industry standards around how people advertise online,” says Brad Smallwood, the Facebook vice president in charge of its measurement and insights team. At the core of this work is Facebook’s partnership with Datalogix…What they came up with was a Rube Goldbergian system that strips out personally identifiable information from the databases at Facebook, Datalogix, and the major retailers while still matching people and their purchases.

The truth is, ads work wherever there are enough eyeballs. And these days, there are more eyeballs focused on Facebook as on TV. Also, that we’re all just streams of data endlessly intersecting.

That tightness in your chest is just your soul constricting just a bit. Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it.

Photo credit: Trey Ratcliff, Flickr

I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me

Progress and evolution are not clean processes anywhere, and certainly not in the realm of tech. For every cool innovation that gets widely adopted to the point we can’t imagine living without it, there is an entire battlefield bloodied with bad, mistimed, and unthought-through ideas. Here’s an example, I think, of one of those.

It’s called Facedeals, and it’s a camera that recognizes faces from pictures uploaded to Facebook (although it has no connection to the company). It then, when you walk in a store equipped with one of these device, checks you in and gives you special deals and discounts. Seems like a bad idea on paper, but the reason people are talking about it is it’s not on paper. According to the company that makes it, Redpepper (which is also an ad agency), it’s being beta-tested at a store in Nashville, where the company is located. That means that somebody thought this idea good enough to work it up past prototype and into beta and marketing.

Obviously, at first blush this seems creepy, even if it works by people voluntarily signing up for it, but is it really that different from Near-Field Communications, where just walking into a store with your phone on could trigger the exact same thing? Mabye not. Maybe it’s just cultural bias against cameras monitoring us. I mean, I’ll fill out a ten-page form full of personally identifying information about me, but take me picture? That’s like Big Brother stuff.

Although I can’t quite put my finger on the difference between the two, this smacks of one of those technologies that pretends to be one thing but is really for another not-really-consumer-friendly purpose. Like speed cameras. Or social media in general, I guess. So that’s a moot point.

Plus, I can’t believe that the first widespread consumer use of facial recognition will be so that we can get a discount on a sweater. But what do I know? Part of me is still suspicious that tablet computers as they’re mostly used now are kind of silly.